The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety may be forgetting the power of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s wrath. Last month, the group’s president, Adrian Lund, launched a brief campaign against LaHood’s campaign to end distracted driving. Lund was quickly and sharply rebuked by the Obama administration and soon softened his challenge. But speaking to Jalopnik last week, Lund rehashed his criticism of LaHood’s strategy for curbing distracted driving, concluding that laws “don’t seem an effective strategy for addressing it.”
On some level, Lund is right. Distracted driving will not change until the public as a whole makes major lifestyle changes likely to be supported by technological innovations. But Lund errs in his suggestion that texting while driving maintains the status quo, and therefore should not require additional government intervention.
“The question is how are these new distractions, cell phones and texting, being integrated into the other things drivers do when they drive,” says Lund. “Is it adding to their distractions, or is it merely substituting for other kind of distractions? If it’s only the latter, it suggests we shouldn’t see too big an increase in crashes.”
Last year, distracted driving was responsible for more than 6,000 deaths and nearly 500,000 injuries. Lund goes on to say that taking cell phones away from drivers will lead them to revert to other distractions, like reading the newspaper while driving, which used to be common practice. But many distracted driving laws do not target cell phones alone. In most states, if you’re caught reading a newspaper, book, or kindle while zooming down the highway, you’re likely to get slapped with a fine identical to if you’re caught staring at your iPhone.
In the past, Secretary LaHood has had some harsh words for people who claim his efforts to curb distracted driving are fruitless. When the Washington-based Seward Square Group circulated a memo claiming that anti-distracted driving regulations are “a full-throttle assault on mobile technology,” LaHood quickly fired back.
“Regardless of what a powerful lobbying group has to say, the simple fact is that texting and talking on cell phones behind the wheel is a deadly epidemic,” he said in a press conference. “To suggest otherwise is to put your head in the sand. To spend considerable resources to suggest otherwise is a glaring waste.”
Photo credit: mrJasonWeaver